7 tips on throwing a Chinese New Year party (or how we do it around here)

The first time we threw a Chinese New Year party, we just had some friends over for Chinese food. It was fairly sedate.
The next year I was chatting with our guests when we realized our children were racing through the house waving a plunger.
Once you’ve had plunger races as part of your Chinese New Year party, you realize you have entered a new arena. So although I’m all for leaving space for children to have creative fun (and we still do have the occasional spontaneous light saber duel in the yard mid-party), I also try to make sure we have some activities ready to go so we can channel that energy.

As we’re coming off a spirited celebration of the Year of the Monkey, I thought it would be fun to share a few thoughts on what makes a Chinese New Year party.

Build your guest list. We include families with connections to China, people who have visited China, people who like Chinese food, people who may have heard of China or…well, people who are just fun and love parties. Our guests invariably mix, exchange recipes, and (this year, at least) laugh about a Chinese New Year party where the hostess forgot the chopsticks. If during the party your husband looks around the room and says, “We’ve always wondered how many people this house holds. Here’s our answer,” you’ve probably succeeded. Right?

Plan your menu. I’m a fan of ordering take-out because even at my best I can’t top an egg roll from a Chinese restaurant. I also like to do at least a little cooking. Our guests helped with the food this year, and that made it especially fun. Their desserts were incredible. If you’re ordering food, don’t ask me for tips on how much to order. Last year I over-ordered and finished the last of the shrimp fried rice just before Christmas. This year I underestimated how hungry our guests would be, and we have just a little left. Bottom line? People love Chinese food. And banana pudding.

And monkey bread.

And, of course, cakes shaped like the animal of the year. I would be lying if I told you we hadn’t already started discussing the Year of the Rooster cake.

Have fun with the decorations. Admittedly, I go a bit over board with this.

Or maybe I go way overboard.

We find dragons and everything Chinese in the house.

This year we threw in some monkeys, and my sister-in-law found this adorable hand-stitched Chinese monkey for us.

You don’t need to spend much money. We found Chinese fans at the dollar store and placed a basket of oranges near the door. But Amazon definitely saw me coming with their recommendations, which is why we own a Chinese lion marionette. No regrets here on any of the purchases. Of course, that might be why I’m giving up online shopping for Lent, but we’ll discuss that later.

Plan some games. We include many children, but I might do this even if we were having an adult party. Who doesn’t love Chinese New Year bingo or a bit of trivia? We always have a craft table, and I am a big fan of Pass the Present, which involves children sitting in a circle and taking turns shredding the newspaper layers into piles on the floor.

The crafts don’t have to be anything extraordinary. I printed some coloring pages and offered a place where the children could make their own Chinese New Year cards.

I also ordered some amazing paper lanterns from Luna Bazaar, and the children decorated them. I found the bookmarks and little placemats to color on Oriental Trading. All fun, but not all necessary if you would rather go simpler. (And I get no credit or kickback for mentioning them here. That’s just where I shop.)

Distribute red envelopes. We give ours just to the children inside goody bags because…well, because I have way too much fun finding toys that match the animal and the goody bags Oriental Trading makes are too cute. You could give them to the adults too. This is your call. This year we had flying rubber monkeys and little monkey puzzles and tiny monkey figures and monkey stickers—all from Oriental Trading or Amazon. The traditional red envelopes contain money and that would be popular, but it seems awkward to me—and expensive—so we put chocolate coins inside.

Don’t forget the fortune cookies. Yes, they aren’t authentically Chinese, but they are Chinese-American, and they are fun. At our Year of the Monkey party, they all seemed to contain the same fortune. How can we top that next year?

Make your own fireworks. Some people let children jump on bubble wrap at the end—and we have done that. But mostly we just count on the group to be fun and loud to make a mess as big as you’d find after a real Chinese New Year parade. I’d say we succeeded.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year! Wishing you and your loved ones health and happiness in this Year of the Monkey!

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.